Yes and no. To fans, every series brings cries that “OK, this is big series. Tonight’s game is huge...” when in fact the grind of 162 games leaves each contest, each series, just a square in the elaborate quilt that is a long season.
How important are these upcoming 7 games at Minnesota and Houston? No doubt it will be big if the A’s go 6-1 or if they go 1-6. But if the week yields 3 or 4 wins, 3 or 4 losses, the A’s will push on business as usual, roughly in the same position they are today only with 7 fewer games left on the schedule.
Still, this road trip brings with it a test against 2 of only 3 elite competitors known to the A’s schedule, as only the Twins, Astros, and Yankees have been able to lay claim to a record worthy of a division winner. And of course Houston offers “two game swing” contests in which Oakland has spotted the Astros a 7-1 start in the season series.
It is, if nothing else, a good test of where the A’s are — which, currently, is the hottest team in baseball with an 18-5 record since mid-June. So here, in corporate broadcast fashion, are some “Keys To The Road Trip”. They are not brought to you by any car company, but they are, in fact, brought to you by my working keyboard.
As great as Liam Hendriks has been, the A’s cannot ask him to pitch every high leverage bullpen inning for 7 days against two elite teams. Others are going to have to step up, even though half the bullpen consists of two guys, Lou Trivino and Blake Treinen, who have pitching strictly in blowouts to try to regain their lost mojo, and two guys, Ryan Buchter and Wei-Chung Wang, who have yet to pitch since the All-Star break.
Over the course of this road trip, the A’s are going to need meaningful contributions from this quartet and my vote for a guy to thrust back into the spotlight is Trivino. While he hasn’t mastered the “clean inning” in his recent efforts, the stuff looks good, the command seems to be returning, and we all know that Trivino is capable of dominating in high leverage when he’s right.
Is Trivino right enough to be trusted with a game on the line against the Astros? I think so. The Twins series might offer the chance for an audition or two to feel it out, and putting Trivino “front and center” in Minnesota might allow the A’s to keep Hendriks more fresh for the Houston series — where you would want to leverage him as much as possible for a 4-out, or 2 IP, appearance as needed to snatch a key game head to head.
Currently the formula has Yusmeiro Petit, Joakim Soria, and Hendriks at the ready after the 6th inning. Buchter and Wang may be factors for key matchups against the likes of Max Kepler or Eddie Rosario, and later Josh Reddick or Michael Brantley, but as Oakland finds the need to delve deeper into the depth chart perhaps Trivino is ready to step back up. It couldn’t come at a better time.
It’s great when you can score 10 runs, out of 10 total, via the long ball alone — as the A’s did on Wednesday — but this is not a sustainable model, especially against good teams. You have to be able to push runs across the old fashioned way to supplement your dingers.
In games that could well turn on a single run or inning, the A’s need to show the versatility to take advantage of opportunities with runners in scoring position, particularly runners at 3B with less than 2 outs, without relying solely on the long ball.
This might mean hitting away from the shift, shortening swings to make contact, or even a cleverly timed safety squeeze, but this is a week when failing to execute is likely to be costly against teams that don’t tend to give an abundance of chances — the Twins are 3rd in the AL in team ERA (3.92), the Astros 4th (3.94).
Hey, it’s in the team name. In contrast to the Plouffe-y, Butler-y, Valencian season of yore, the A’s have become incredibly athletic, from the wizard known as Matt Chapman, to his 5-tool sidekick Ramon Laureano, to the smooth and heady Matt Olson.
Whether it’s jaw-dropping defense or 1B-to-3B derring-do, Oakland has become a team that can match raw athleticism with the best of them, and they are about to go up against the best of them, calling their Bregman and raising a Chapman, answering a Springer with a Laureano of their own.
Enter Franklin Barreto, perhaps the most polarizing member of the A’s current roster. With all the talent and few of the results, Barreto has become anywhere from a great white hope to a whipping boy in fan analysis.
No one knows who Barreto will become long term, or for whom he might become it, but probably where all can agree is that he has the ability to impact a game on a good day. He is, if nothing else, extremely athletic and physically gifted, capable of being a game-changer with his speed, his power, or even his defense. There is a ton of ability trapped in that body, and never would there be a better time to unleash it than on this road trip.
In sum, keep an eye on Trivino and Barreto as players who could emerge to help define these 7 days, and remember that unless they win or lose more than 4 chances are we will look back on this road trip as being “another week” more than as defining anything. Hopefully it goes better than most big weeks that end facing Justin Verlander.
Too soon? I agree.
See you at 5:00pm for the first of 7 on this intriguing trip.